Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Odalisque" by Mark Salerno

Mark Salerno
(Salt Publishing)

Mark Salerno offers a selection of noir-inspired sonnets that tell a tale of cop and a hooker who start up a relationship that takes us on a tour of a mythical, distant, black and white Los Angeles of contemporary time. Shifting voices, locations, presenting the city as an amorphous spread of contradictions--a site where generations have settled, started anew and quite completed the paradises they tried to construct for themselves--Salerno offers up a terse diction that works splendidly in the sonnet form.
Like the champion scribes of The Big Orange Raymond Chandler and John Fante, Salerno has created his texture and tone as he writes of the places and things his erstwhile lovers encounter and pass through; a squandered chance, an exhausted idealism, a world view made directionless by relentless short term pragmatism. This is the poet's ear for the language we all speak that has continually denies and embraces the cluttered and conflicted urban chaos that distracts and drives them at the same time.


To be without believing or just forget the dream
as when a former odalisque too late to get lucky
settles on a set table in a dingy outlying suburb
she told her soul to leave her alone and it did so
chastened by the memory of true life in the far west
and a little roughed up in consequence of feeling
when giving up becomes one way of staying alive
I was M. dilatory in my wanderings and a lost man
hustled by a cutie girl and drenched in flop sweat
for my anxiety to know the really real or breathe air
between seeming and being of the way she said couple-y
along with all the other beauty school graduates
cooped up and portioned out running gags and shtick
to save a fairy tale as I have scrupled to aver.
There is a particular punch and power to Mark Salerno's sonnet style, at first reading as if it were an incoherent clash of radio stations competing on the AM dial. But as one reads, as one absorbs the terrain, the local businesses and street names, the voices emerge, masculine and feminine identities switching sensibilities, the monologues revealing all the moods, every defense, every method of inoculating oneself against the prevailing truth that greets many a visitor , many a person who has come to stake their claim on a terrain that absorbs emotion, kills desire, and makes one a slave in life that sustains itself on trying to recreate a vague notion of an unrealized ideal.

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